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- Denzil Quarrier - 10/53 -
her particularly pious, and, indeed, she had often suffered Mrs. Mumbray's rebukes for levity of speech and indifference to the conventional norm of feminine behaviour. Though her parents had always been prominent in Polterham society, she was ill-educated, and of late years had endeavoured, in a fitful, fretful way, to make amends to herself for this injustice. Disregarding paternal censure, she subscribed to the Literary Institute, and read at hap-hazard with little enough profit. Twenty-three years old, she was now doubly independent, for the will of a maiden aunt (a lady always on the worst of terms with Mr. and Mrs. Mumbray, and therefore glad to encourage Serena against them) had made her an heiress of no slight consideration. Young men of Polterham regarded her as the greatest prize within view, though none could flatter himself that he stood in any sensible degree of favour with her. There seemed no reason why Miss Mumbray should not marry, but it was certain that as yet she behaved disdainfully to all who approached her with the show of intention. She was not handsome, but had agreeable features. As though to prove her contempt of female vanity and vulgar display, she dressed plainly, often carelessly--a fact which of course served to emphasize her importance in the eyes of people who tried to seem richer than they were.
Miss Glazzard rarely came into the town, but Serena visited Highmead at least once a week. According to the state of the weather, the friends either sat talking in Ivy's room or rambled about the grounds, where many a pretty and sheltered spot was discoverable. At such times the master of the house seldom showed himself, and, on the whole, Highmead reminded one of a mansion left in the care of servants whilst the family are abroad. Miss Mumbray was surprised when, on her arrival one afternoon, she was conducted into the presence of three persons, who sat conversing in the large drawing-room. With Ivy and her father was a gentleman whose identity she could only guess; he proved to be Mr. Eustace Glazzard, her friend's uncle.
To the greetings with which she was received Serena responded formally. It happened that her attire was to-day even more careless than usual, for, the weather being wet and cold, she had just thrown a cloak over the frock in which she lounged at home, and driven out in a cab with the thought of stepping directly into Ivy's sanctum. So far from this, she found herself under the scrutiny of two well-dressed men, whose faces, however courteous, manifested the signature of a critical spirit. The elder Mr. Glazzard was bald, wrinkled, and of aristocratic bearing; he wore gold-rimmed glasses, which accentuated the keenness of his gaze. The younger man, though altogether less formidable, had a smile which Miss Mumbray instinctively resented; he seemed to be regarding her with some special interest, and it was clear that her costume did not escape mental comment.
Ivy did her best to overcome the restraint of the situation, and for a quarter of an hour something like conversation was maintained, but, of a sudden, Miss Mumbray rose.
"We will go to my room," said Ivy, regarding her nervously.
"Thank you," was the reply, "I mustn't stay longer to-day."
"Oh, why not? But indeed you must come for a moment; I have something to show you"
Serena took leave of the gentlemen, and with show of reluctance suffered herself to be led to the familiar retreat.
"I'm afraid I have displeased you," Ivy addressed her, when the door was closed. "I ought to have asked your permission."
"It doesn't matter, dear--not a bit. But I wasn't quite in the humour for--for that kind of thing. I came here for quietness, as I always do."
"Do forgive me! I thought--to tell the truth, it was my uncle--I had spoken of you to him, and he said he should so much like to meet you."
"It really doesn't matter; but I look rather like the woman who comes to buy old dresses, don't I?"
"Of course not!"
"And what if I do?" exclaimed the other, seating herself by the fire. "I don't know that I've any claim to look better than Mrs. Moss. I suppose she and I are about on a level in understanding and education, if the truth were told. Your uncle would see that, of course."
"Now, don't--don't!" pleaded Ivy, bending over the chair and stroking her friend's shoulder. "It's so wrong of you, dear. My father and Uncle Eustace are both quite capable of judging you rightly."
"What did you tell him about me--your uncle?" asked Serena, pettishly.
"That you were my friend, and that we read together"----
"Oh, of course! What else?"
"I explained who you were."
"That I had a ridiculous name, and was the daughter of silly people!"
"Oh, it _is_ unkind of you!"
"Well, and what else? I insist on knowing, Ivy."
"Indeed, I didn't say one word that you mightn't have heard yourself. I think you can believe me, dear?"
"To be sure I can. But then no doubt your father told him the rest, or has done by this time. There's no harm in that. I like people to know that I am independent. Well, now tell me about _him_. He isn't a great favourite of yours, is he?"
"No, not a great favourite." Ivy seemed always to weigh her words. "I don't know him very well. He has always lived in London, and I've never seen him more than once a year. I'm afraid he doesn't care much about the things that I prize most, but he is kind and very clever, I believe. Father always says he might have been a great artist if he had chosen."
"Then why didn't he choose?"
"I can't say. So many people seem to fall far short of what they might have been."
"Women do--what else can you expect? But men are free. I suppose he is rich?"
"No, not rich. He seems to have enough for his needs."
Serena indulged her thoughts.
"I felt I disliked him at first," she said, presently. "But he is improved. He can talk well, I should think. I suppose he is always in clever society?"
"I suppose so."
"And why doesn't he invite you to London, and take you to see people?"
"Oh, he knows me better than that!" replied Ivy, with a laugh.
Whilst the girls talked thus, Eustace Glazzard and his brother were also in confidential chat. They had gone to the library and made themselves comfortable with cigars--a cellaret and glasses standing within reach. The rooms at Highmead gave evidence of neglect. Guests were seldom entertained; the servants were few, and not well looked after.
"She has, I dare say, thirty thousand," William Glazzard was saying, with an air of indifference. "I suppose she'll marry some parson. Let us hope it's one of the fifty-pound curates."
"Deep in the old slough?"
"Hopelessly--or Ivy wouldn't be so thick with her."
When he had spoken, William turned with an expressive smile.
"Still, who knows? I rather like the girl. She has no humbug about her--no pretence, that's to say. You see how she dresses."
"A bad sign, I'm afraid."
"Well, no, not in this case, I think. Her home accounts for it. That old ass, Mumbray, and his wife make things pretty sour for her, as the Germans say; at least, I guess so."
"I don't dislike her appearance--intelligent at bottom, I should imagine."
There followed a long silence. Eustace broke it by asking softly:
"And how do things go with you?"
"The same as ever. Steadily down-hill I had better let the place before it gets into a thoroughly bad state. And you?"
His brother made no answer, but sat with bent head.
"You remember Stark," he said at length, "the lawyer? He wants me to stand for Polterham at the next election."
"You? In place of Welwyn-Baker?"
"No; as Liberal candidate; or Radical, if you like."
"You're joking, I suppose!"
"Where's the impossibility?"
Their eyes met.
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